Yemen: a tale of 2 mosques

Middle East

Sana, Yemen - Mosques are the spiritual homes of Islam, often adorned and decorated with an Arabian world aesthetic, and sometimes offering contrasting experiences.

A visit to two landmark mosques in the Yemeni capital city, Sana’a, shows how differently locals engage with these places of worship.

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THE FAITHFUL: A man recites the Qur'an inside the Grand Mosque in the Old City. Pictures: Yazeed KamaldienSHOWPIECE: Exquisite detail and decor inside the Saleh Mosque.SPACIOUS: The courtyard of the Grand Mosque in the Old City.

The Saleh Mosque, named after the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is a luxurious, carpeted space. Most residents see this mosque, with its towering minarets and bright lights, at night. It bears testimony to the beauty of Yemen.

The Saleh Mosque is guarded by security men at its complex gates and as one enters its doors. Fortunately, they are friendly and allow one to enter with a camera. At the time of Thur salaah (the midday prayer) men had gathered inside the mosque. A small congregation of worshippers filled only three short rows in this huge mosque. The prayer was also televised on Yemeni TV.

A walk around the mosque after the prayer offered a close-up view of its details. The carpets have intricate patterns, chandeliers decorate the ceiling like floating flowers above and Arabic wall paintings add vibrant colour.

The traditional qamariyah (the stained-glass window that is distinctly Yemeni) also add a special touch. Its architecture is grand, but not overwhelming.

The atmosphere is one of marvel, though. Beyond being used for Islamic prayer, the mosque exudes a sense of being a museum.

One local joked that the mosque was built as a tourist attraction.

Half of Sana’a has no daily electricity, while the lights of this mosque are never dimmed. That must eat half the city’s available power supply.

After a leisurely midday at the Saleh Mosque, the Grand Mosque in the historical Old City of Sana’a awaits, with all its ancient nuances. From the moment one enters, one hears the Qur’an being recited. What the mosque lacks in terms of grandeur, compared to the Saleh Mosque, it certainly makes up for in spirit.

One reason for this contrast is that the Grand Mosque is situated in a living, breathing community, while the Saleh Mosque is situated awkwardly on a highway. The latter seems a mosque for special occasions, while the Old City’s Grand Mosque has firmly secured a place in the hearts of worshippers.

It is obvious that most of the old men who recite the Qur’an inside this mosque do so daily. They seem very comfortable in the mosque – as if they are at home.

The Grand Mosque takes one to a long-gone era with its crafted wooden ceiling panels and bricks that bear the markings of its origins hundreds of years ago. This mosque is under renovation, but remains in daily use.

Its courtyard hosts a range of interesting Old City characters.

It was time for Asr salaah (the afternoon prayer), but there was no water to make wudu, or ablution, required before prostrating before Allah.

It seemed a pity that this mosque had a sense of neglect, compared to the Saleh Mosque, as it is very much part of the Old City’s history and daily life. It is a living heritage site that deserves more care.

Perhaps some of the cash spent on the Saleh Mosque’s electricity bill could have been spent on building proper ablution facilities, especially for visitors from distant lands.

In just a few hours, these two mosques offered insightful journeys into Yemeni architecture, heritage, culture and spirituality

. - Weekend Argus

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